194. Minutes of the Cabinet Meeting0

[Here follows a list of the 36 officials present.]

Following the silent prayer, the President recalled Mr. Khrushchev’s reference at the Summit meeting about “God as my witness.” The President pointed out that Khrushchev had been very active as a youth in the Orthodox Church and had won prizes for his church work.

The President told the Cabinet that this meeting had been called so that they all might have an intimate account of events at the Summit and the Administration’s interpretation of them.

The President wanted to point out something not yet in print as regards the U–2, namely that a rocket might have been a near miss and perhaps have caused a flameout, thus putting the plane in trouble. However, it was fairly certain that the plane had not been actually hit by a missile. For one thing, had the pilot bailed out at 70, 000 feet he would have frozen to death; also, the bullet holes that showed in the photographs certainly were not put in at 70, 000 feet.

The President also wanted to emphasize, regarding the “cover” story, that perhaps there was a lesson here to count to 10 before saying anything at all. But he would not take this aspect too seriously, and if critics wanted to say this was a blunder, that would be their privilege. It was a cover story put out under assumptions that later proved incorrect. The President was certain that the Russians had made their decisions as to what they would or would not do prior to arrival in Paris. They had deliberately arrived in Paris on Saturday instead of Sunday, and had prearranged engagements for talking to our Allies. The question might be asked, the President went on, as to why they had come to Paris at all. Perhaps it was in an effort to split our Allies from us. Certainly their papers were all arranged in advance. The President speculated as to what might have been the outcome had he done the unthinkable thing of agreeing to Khrushchev’s demands in the hope of keeping the conference going. To have done that would have opened the way for a continuing vilification throughout the meeting and an outcome of no accomplishment whatsoever.

The President repeatedly stressed the support given him by the British and the French, and he believed that the 3 countries were never so close together as they are now. He spoke in detail about [Page 515] Mr. McMillan’s cooperative attitude, quite the opposite of the stories in the New York papers about a rift between and British and the Americans. The President explained that Mr. Macmillan wanted no part of any appeasement attitude and that his only interest had been in holding the door open for a few more hours, something that would facilitate his handling in Parliament of the expected collapse. The time worked out for issuing the communiqué1 on the failure was mutually satisfactory to all concerned.

Following the breakup, the President said, there had been time for the Allies to consider what might be future problems and to speculate as to Khrushchev’s motives. It seemed clear that the U–2 incident was not the cause of the great switch since Mr. Khrushchev himself had spoken of knowing for so long about the U–2 flights. The President told of Mr. Khrushchev’s jest to Mr. Macmillan on paying his farewell call. Khrushchev had said he supposed that Macmillan wondered why the Marshal was always with him, and that was because perhaps the Russian people felt that Macmillan was such a skilled diplomat he could twist Khrushchev around. The Marshal was there to see that Mr. Macmillan didn’t, Khrushchev exclaimed! The President regarded this as some of Mr. Khrushchev’s humor but with perhaps just a little truth in it, for Khrushchev’s self-confidence might not be as great as it was when he visited the U.S.

Sec. Anderson took note of the fact that the Russians had cancelled a story that was to appear in the forthcoming issue of “USSR”—the English-language magazine published by the Russians for circulation in the United States like our Russian-language “America.” He wondered if this fact could not be made public. The President thought it might be looked at for that purpose. Allen Dulles said that Khrushchev’s first statement about the U–2 was on May 5th and that the cancelling occurred on May 6th. This might have been done because of the way in which Russian officials in this country interpreted Khrushchev’s remarks, although it was more likely that the cancellation was by direction from Moscow.

The President commented that some of his colleagues were of the opinion that the Russians were not so much concerned by the U–2 as they were of the prospect of his visit to Russia, so they seized upon the U–2 as a means of getting out of it. He thought it significant that Khrushchev insisted upon the opportunity to make the opening statement at the Monday morning meeting2 even though the President had discussed with De Gaulle a procedure whereby the President would [Page 516] open the meeting with his statement on discontinuing the U–2 flights. Khrushchev had proceeded to make, practically word for word, the same assertion that he had made privately to De Gaulle the day before about the U–2, then went on to treat in the same way and at about the same length the subject of the President’s plan to visit Russia and the need for cancelling it.

At the President’s request, Mr. Merchant then recounted for the Cabinet the background for the Summit meeting. He said the story really began in November, 1958, with Khrushchev’s speech on Berlin3 and the intent to make a separate treaty with East Germany. The story progressed throughout all the various discussions and international visits up to this spring when it probably became an important part of Soviet thinking that there was a unanimity of views among the Allies finally developed as the Summit approached.

Mr. Merchant recounted in detail the visits of Khrushchev with De Gaulle and Macmillan on the eve of the Summit, the President’s decision as to his position, and the statement to be made, the expansion of the Monday morning meeting so that Malinovsky could attend, and the 3-hour Monday meeting of the four delegations. Mr. Merchant stressed that De Gaulle had asked all of the participants to reflect on the situation for 24 hours without making any public statement that would freeze positions. Mr. Khrushchev refused and gave his statement to the press Monday afternoon. On Monday evening, Macmillan called on Mr. Khrushchev but without result.

Mr. Merchant recounted events of Tuesday, noting that Khrushchev had rushed back from his rural tour after receiving the written invitation to the Tuesday afternoon Summit (not U–2) meeting. Then had followed the ludicrous series of phone calls from the Russian Embassy until finally Khrushchev had replied in writing that he would come to a conference only for the purpose of receiving an apology from the President. Thereupon followed the meeting of “The Three” to consider the communiqué.

On Wednesday there occurred the final meeting of “The Three” when it was agreed to go ahead with the nuclear ban and the disarmament talks. Simultaneously, Mr. Khrushchev was holding his theatrical press conference which had the effect of strengthening the Allied position. Mr. Merchant spoke too of the solidarity and the stoutness of the French and the British which was very clear throughout the sessions. On Thursday, as the top officials were leaving Paris, the Russians made no effort at any level to re-establish communications with our people.

[Page 517]

The President noted how Khrushchev had made so much of a point of our “threat” against Russia, even though we had not stated that we would continue the flights and had made it clear to Khrushchev. He had used the curious logic that since the United States had refused to confer under any ultimatum about Berlin, he could not confer under the U–2 threat.

Mr. Bohlen, as preface to his remarks, emphasized how everything had to be guesswork as far as Russian thinking was concerned. Mr. Bohlen said three things stood out: it was clear during March and April that Khrushchev realized he would not get at the Summit what he wanted regarding Berlin, that there was within Russia opposition not to the policy itself but to the personal emphasis given by Khrushchev to his handling of foreign policy, and that the U–2 incident was probably a catalytic agent in view of the traditional great sensitivity of the Russians to any violation of their air space. Mr. Bohlen took note also of the extensive criticism of Khrushchev by the military, many of whom resented the dismissal of Zhukov, the reduction in force, the pension cut-offs, etc. Mr. Bohlen said that these things could not quite be sorted out, but it could be concluded that the Russians had seized upon the U–2 as a reason for sabotaging the conference. Without the incident, they might not have been able to preclude a conference and would have gone through the motions of one up to reaching a fruitless end. Mr. Bohlen thought it very significant that the statement Mr. Khrushchev had given to De Gaulle4 was not changed by even a comma when it was presented at the Monday meeting. This was obviously a “set” piece that he had brought with him from the Kremlin.

As to why he had bothered to come to Paris, Mr. Bohlen believed that Khrushchev thought he would find someone so anxious to have a Summit Conference that there would be pressure put on the President. Khrushchev’s bitterness and expressed disappointment in De Gaulle and Macmillan provides a basis for this view.

Mr. Bohlen concluded by remarking that there had been no change of policy set forth by Khrushchev either in his press conference or subsequent speech in Berlin. However, it was possible that meetings were taking place even now in the Kremlin which could bring a change in policy. Mr. Bohlen thought that efforts designed to split the Allies could well be expected.

The President remarked on Mr. Hagerty’s belief that there would be some value in publishing the President’s originally planned opening statement which carried the date of May 11th.5 Mr. Merchant said that [Page 518] Mr. Herter was considering this and that there might be merit in doing so after consultation with Messrs. Macmillan and De Gaulle. The President said that he was not urging that this be done, but it might be a way of setting forth some solid views on the way to make progress toward reduction of tensions.

The President then invited questions from the Cabinet members. Mr. Benson6 asked if there had been any subsequent direct word from Mr. Khrushchev to any of the 3 Allied leaders. The President replied in the negative. Mr. Rogers7 inquired about any psychological interpretation of Khrushchev’s press conferences. Mr. Bohlen commented on how Khrushchev had been willing to hold a press conference anywhere, any time. He thought Khrushchev was a wonderful actor who was careful not to commit himself to any action even while indulging himself in great inventiveness. Mr. Bohlen noted that some of the vulgarity of Khrushchev’s comments had been tidied up by the translators.

Sec. Seaton8 inquired whether there was any basis for Khrushchev to miscalculate the unanimity of the Allies. Mr. Bohlen thought that the Russians always miscalculated in this regard. Perhaps the Russians had not expected De Gaulle or Macmillan to succeed in pressuring the President into accepting the Russian U–2 demands, but they might well have expected that this could isolate the United States from its Allies. The President confirmed that neither of the Allied leaders had made any effort to get him to change the tenor of his reply in any way. Sec. Seaton asked what might be the basis for Khrushchev to expect an Allied divergence. Mr. Bohlen replied that the only possible basis would be the critical stories that appeared in some places in the European press with regard to the U–2 incident. Because of their own practices, the Russians invariably interpreted newspapers of the free world as reflecting somehow an official position.

Dr. Glennan9 asked if any information had been picked up of any Russian criticism of the Russian government, particularly as to its failure to prevent the U–2 penetration. Mr. Bohlen replied that if there had been any such criticism, it was being kept very secret. Sec. Anderson asked if Malinovsky should be regarded as a spokesman for the Russian military. Mr. Bohlen thought not, for he is regarded basically as a political general even though he had a good wartime record. Mr. Bohlen referred to Khrushchev’s jest to Macmillan and commented that of course Khrushchev would never doubt his own ability to handle Macmillan. [Page 519] Mr. Bohlen speculated that Khrushchev kept Malinovsky and Gromyko at his side in order to provide two witnesses who could subsequently testify to the Soviet Council that Khrushchev had not deviated by a single word from agreed positions. Mr. Bohlen recalled that in April it had been Khrushchev who had insisted on having strictly private talks with De Gaulle. He added that the Russian system, except for a period of Stalin’s rule, is one where an approved policy cannot be changed by an individual, much as is the custom in the U.K. as regards policies approved by the British Cabinet.

There was brief reference to the United Nations’ 7–2 vote in support of the United States.10

[Here follow five paragraphs on U–2 flights and congressional hearings.]

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Cabinet Series. Confidential. No drafting information appears on the source text. For another account of this meeting, see Kistiakowsky, Scientist, pp. 337–338.
  2. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1960, p. 431.
  3. See Document 168.
  4. See vol. VIII, Document 24.
  5. See Document 160.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 150.
  7. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson.
  8. Attorney General William P. Rogers.
  9. Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton.
  10. Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration T. Keith Glennan.
  11. On May 26, the U.N. Security Council voted 7–2 against a Soviet resolution condemning the United States for the U–2 flight.